A new report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) finds that since 2014, over 225 people detained in prisons, psychiatric hospitals, and police cells have died of non-natural causes in England and Wales. Many of these suffered from mental health conditions.
The findings attribute these deaths to an ongoing culture of secrecy, poor access to specialist mental health services, and a lack of high quality independent investigations. Even further, when 2015 figures for psychiatric hospitals are also published, the final number of deaths could be much higher.
“Failure to make progress in reducing the number of avoidable deaths is a national stain that we should no longer tolerate in modern civilized society,” said Dr. Swaran Singh, EHRC Commissioner on adult deaths in detention and Professor of Social and Community Psychiatry at the University of Warwick’s Medical School.
The new analysis acknowledges that some improvements have been made in police custody, hospitals and prisons. There has been a reduction in the number of people being held in police cells as a place of safety, for example, and there has also been a reduction in the number of deaths of detained patients in psychiatric hospitals.
The Commission also notes that positive changes have been put in place to provide better support for prisoners with mental health conditions.
However, this is not enough, according to the report. Progress is not steady and safety in prisons is still a significant concern. The growing violence in prisons is reflected in the number of non-natural deaths of prisoners year after year. In 2013, there were 84 non-natural deaths in prison. This increased to 98 in 2014 and then to 104 in 2015.
The report also shows that more must be done to increase access to specialist mental health services in prisons and that “information black holes” such as the lack of data on deaths following release from prisons are holding back progress in reducing self-harm, injury, and deaths.
“When the state detains people for their own good or the safety of others it has a very high level of responsibility to ensure their life is protected, and that is a particular challenge for people with mental health conditions. Progress has been so slow that we have continued to see a large number of tragic cases in the past two years where that responsibility has not been met,” said Singh.
“There is a corrosive culture of secrecy and blame which is holding back the progress that’s so desperately needed. It is tragic that we appear to be going backwards not forwards in some areas, whilst avoidable deaths continue to rise.”
Source: University of Warwick